Walsingham nature reserve, sometimes referred to as Tom Moore’s Jungle or Blue Hole Park, is one of the most beautiful reserves in Bermuda, in my opinion. It contains many diverse habitats including marine ponds, rocky coast, caves, and inland forest. If you’ve been to Walsingham, you may have noticed that the soil is particularly red there. Soil is typically brown because of the abundance of decaying organic matter within it, which turns brown as it decomposes. A red soil colouration indicates the presence of iron-oxides in the soil. But where, exactly, did this red soil come from?

A pathway at Walsingham

These iron-rich re soils are called terra rossa and are often clayey in consistency. There are a few hypotheses as to why the soil at Walsingham is red. One is that Bermuda’s geology enables it to create red soil by itself; this is due to the presence of volcanic rock underneath the calcium carbonate compounds that give our beaches sand. However, Bermuda is situated in such a way which would allow it to receive airborne red dust originating from both Western Africa and Mississippi Valley in the U.S.

A new study has revealed that the soil’s origins are actually in Western Africa. It was previously believed that soil deposits from Western Africa were only able to reach the Caribbean, but this research would indicate that it can travel farther distances. This dust comes specifically from Sahara and Sahel regions of Africa, and is blown so far due to hurricanes and other tropical storms which frequent Bermuda.

It’s quite lucky that weather patterns and the distance between the African continent and Bermuda mean that our soils are made up of terra rossa. Without the clay-rich soils, we would be unable to grow much of anything. Calcium carbonate-rich soils do not lend themselves to soil growth, and our island’s soil would not be as fertile and nutrient rich without the clay that the terra rossa provides. Additionally, our soil is high in lime content due to deposits from underground limestone which forms the basis of the island. This makes the soil very alkaline, and terra rossa leaves the soil rich in iron but low in magnesium.

To have a look at the very red soil for yourself, and to explore the nature reserve, you can visit Walsingham in Hamilton Parish. It stretches over 12 acres of land. It is named Tom Moore’s Jungle after the poet Thomas Moore, who is believed to have produced work there while sitting beneath a calabash tree.

A cave at Tom Moore’s Jungle